Daoist Philosophy Primer
By Koujiryuu © 2004 Not to be reposted without permission.Introduction
Daoism (Taoism) is a very complex spiritual philosophy that is older than Christianity. This article is intended to introduce individuals to the intricacies of the philosophy, seeing as many internal disciplines and martial arts have been heavily influenced by this unique way of thought. The Daoist tradition began before Chinese recorded history. Daoism was primarily a nature-worshipping religion, until about 600 B.C. when Laozi (Lao Tzu) reformed and elaborated upon the fundamental concepts, and Daoism took a radical turn from being a religion to being a philosophy, as well. Laozi lived around the time of the other well-known and oft-quoted Chinese philosopher, Confucius (Gongfuzi or Kung Fu T'ze), and some Daoists even claim that Laozi was the inspiration for Confucius' teachings.
"Laozi" means "Old master". It is believed that in his early years, Laozi worked as a librarian or historian for the government. As he got older, he became a hermit, reportedly living alone and philosophizing...It is also possible that he taught wandering travelers "the Way". The last time Laozi was seen, he was riding a water buffalo into Mongolia (Far north China), a place where many Daoists in the future would retreat to. At the gate, Laozi was stopped by the gatekeeper and asked if he would write down his philosophies for the sake of mankind;. What resulted was the Dao De Jing (Tao teh C'hing), which is generally considered the definitive Daoist text, and is taken as scripture by the Daoists. So what is the Dao, anyway?The Dao
"At first, there was nothing but the Mysterious One. From the Mysterious One came the Two From the Two came the Three And from the Three came the hundred thousands..." Dao de Jing v.42 opening
The mysterious One being the Dao. The Dao is everything and nothing. It spawned us all, and lives in us all, yet most people are seperate from it in thought due to human nature and desires. It is the universe itself. If you understand the concept of Zen, you understand Dao...because Dao is Zen. The Chan School of Buddhism in China was heavily influenced by the Daoists...Chan migrated to Japan and was renamed Zen (probably because there is no Japanese character for Chan and Zen was the closest one...). Zen Buddhists are basically Daoists who believe in Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha- and they also follow the Buddhist sutras.
The Two being Yin and Yang....and the three being Heaven, Earth, and Man (Or in Qigong- Qi, Jing and Shen). Now, the Dao is both Yin and Yang....Yin and Yang are however NOT good and evil. Yin and yang are always opposites....the reason they are not good and evil is because under circumstances, Good and Evil are neither Yin nor Yang. Here's an example, there are really 4 ways.....I'll explain..
person A attacks somebody to defend another person. This would be a Yang action because person A is acting in an aggressive manner, although his action would generally be considered good.
person A attacks somebody for person A's own benefit (I.E. Robbery...) This would STILL be considered Yang because person A is taking an aggressive action, however most would consider it evil...
You could do the same thing for Yin- passive actions that could be considered good and evil but are Yin no matter what. For brievity's sake I left that up to you guys, hoping I demonstrated my point... Positive is always positive. Negative is always negative. Light is always light, dark is always dark. Male is always male, female always female, etc. But good and evil cannot be considered Yin and Yang because they differ by circumstance.
Now, the Dao is that gray area. However, it isn't. Here's an example: You have a glob of gray clay, a perfectly round ball of gray clay- Dao. Now, if you rip off two pieces from the top and bottom- Yin and Yang- they are still clay, correct? But are they the same piece of clay as the original? No. The original is in them, but they aren't the original, as they are now seperate from it. However, they are still made from the same substance as the original.
See the graphic above? Many people recognize it nowadays, and although it is commonly refered to as a "Yin-Yang symbol", it's proper name is the Taiji (Tai C'hi). Taiji translates to "Great Ultimate", and within this symbol lie many metaphysical truths. The Yang (white) is seen to be spiralling around the Yin (black), and vice versa, indefinitely. Looking at the picture, it could be said to be spiralling in either direction.
Within Yin, lies a single seed of Yang. Within Yang, lies a single seed of Yin. The demonstrates the idea that while both are seperate, they both contain the possibilities of the other.
Looking at the world around us, it is quite easy to see the concept of Taiji in play. The world around us, and the universe, shows great evidence of this duality- from the magnetic poles, down to meteorology's high and low pressure systems, to sexual reproduction, Yin and Yang and their constant shifting and change are expressed in nature to a great extent.
The Dao De Jing states, "Those who know don't talk. Those who talk don't know. (v. 56)". This does not mean that the Dao should not be spoke of; otherwise I'd be quite a hypocrite based only on this article! Rather, this passage emphasizes one important fact: no matter how much you SPEAK of the Dao, you still won't know it unless you have experienced it for yourself, by clearing your mind through meditation and centering yourself in it. The concepts I've laid out so far are what I believe to be the essence of Daoism; However, there are two other important aspects of the modern religion.
The first concept is the current polytheistic Daoist pantheon. I'm not very familiar with this as I don't believe in "Gods". From what I know, the pantheon consists of many Daoist "Immortals", people who supposedly reached such a level of understanding on Earth that they didn't die, but rather ascended to Heaven and are absorbed in the Dao. Many Daoists pray to these "Gods". I personally feel that it is foolish to pray to them for power. Who gives them their supposed power? The Dao. Not only is it available to us lowly mortals through Qigong and meditation, but we can get in direct contact with the Dao ourselves. It's similar to knowing a friend and having his phone number, but instead calling a second friend and asking him to deliver a message to your first friend. Why not just take the direct route?On the Subject of Immortals
Specifically, Daoist immortals cultivated a spiritual state which leads to an energetic transformation of the soul; this reflects in a massive slowing of the aging process, allowing them to keep a body for a long time, in good health. Since death is merely a transformation of the spirit, many immortals realize when they are to leave the body for good and give up their spirit willingly (basically, they cross over when there is nothing left for them to accomplish on Earth).
Since death is merely a transformation, and all spirits are timeless and immortal, could it be said that *all* of us are Daoist immortals? No. The immortals, upon death, are so unified with Dao that they instantly ascend to the state of highest union with Dao. They are reunited with the "Primordial Nothingness". This was the state of the universe before the earliest Heavens were formed. This is quite similar to the buddhist ideal of nirvana. 8 people are said to have attained this, the 8 Daoist Immortals. They are as follows:
Chung-li Ch'uan (zhungli quan) is said to have discovered the Elixir of life. His symbol is the peach, an emblem of longevity; Chang Kuo Lao. (zhang kuo lao) A recluse with mystic powers. He is said to have had a mule that could carry him a thousand miles in a day, which he could fold up like a piece of paper and put in his wallet; Lu Tung-pin. A Taoist scholar and recluse, who received the secret of immortality from Chung-li K'uan. During his probation he is described as having to undergo ten temptations, upon the overcoming of which he was given a sword possessing supernatural powers; Ts'ao Kuo-chiu. (xao kuozhiu) A military commander who turned to hermitic life; T'ieh-Kuai Li. (dieh-kuai li) A beggar with a crutch. He is said to have been a disciple of Lao-Tzu, who summoned him to Heaven, instructing him to leave his body in the care of a pupil; Han Hsang-Tzu. (han zhangzu) Scholar, poet and student of transcendental lore. He is said to have been able to make flowers grow before the eyes of beholders; Lan Ts'ai-ho. (lan xaiho) Sometimes dressed as a male and sometimes as a female. A wondering minstrel, whose songs told about the unreality of this fleeting life and the delusiveness of earthly pleasures; Ho Hsien-Ku. (ho zhenku) Called the Immortal Maiden. In a vision she was instructed that if she ate mother-of-pearl she would gradually become immortal. She lived in the mountains and became more and more ethereal, floating from peak to peak.
The second concept of Daoism I've yet to explain is Qigong (C'hi Kung). These varied and multiple exercises and meditations have been around potentially longer than even the Daoist philosophy itself, and they focus on gaining control over the bodies' bioelectrical energy and harvesting it for use in martial arts, faith healing, and health-promoting applications. The Daoist varient of these techniques focuses on uniting body, mind, and spirit in order for the trainee to be connected with the Dao at all times.Further Reading
The primary Daoist texts are generally accepted as being Laozi's Dao De Jing (Tao Teh Ching), Zhuangzi's Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu), and the more esoteric Lieh-tzu, by the author of the same name. These three texts compose the core of the Daoist philosophical work, and are a must read for any aspiring Daoist. However, there are many other more specific works generally accepted as being part of the Daoist canon; Sun-tzu's Art of War, the Mencius, the Hua Qing Ni, the Secret of the Golden Flower, the Yellow Emperor's Treatise on Internal Medicine, and many more make for a bulk of literary content to keep you occupied in your study.
In conclusion, Daoism is a very intriguing philosophy with a rich history and sometimes confusing amount of varience, as you will almost never find two Daoists who do the exact same Qigong or believe the exact same philosophy. However, the one underlying and outstanding principle that has been outlined in the Dao De Jing and other texts is just about universally practiced and believed by Daoists, that principle which seemingly makes all other difference in practices inferior, is Dao. I hope this article served as a good introduction for those who have read. Here are some links: